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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is freed from Iran; reveals details of interrogation, torture in prison

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Iranian-British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is seen in an undated photograph handed out by her family. |

A British-Iranian mother, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, has arrived in Britain to be reunited with her husband and 7-year-old daughter and has shared grim details about her six-year detention in Iran on the false accusation of plotting to overthrow Iran’s government.

Aid worker Zaghari-Ratcliffe, along with a fellow dual national, Anoosheh Ashoori, who had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly spying for Israel’s Mossad and two years for “acquiring illegitimate wealth,” arrived in Oxfordshire Thursday afternoon, Reuters reported.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard, and her daughter, Gabriella, received her at the British military airbase of Brize Norton, and the family will be at a government-run safe house for a week.

“Ours has been a cruel experience in some ways, but it’s also been an exposure to such a level of kindness and care,” he was quoted as saying after meeting his wife for the first time in six years. “This will be a chapter in our lives, but there are many more chapters to come.”

He also said, as quoted by The Times, “People come out with an extra will to make up for lost time and to stop others having to battle against the bad guys that they feel are responsible. And that can take different directions. While I’m sure she’s happy today, I can’t tell where her head will be in six months. I’m sure she’s feeling a lot less angry today than she was a week ago. There’s nothing like freedom for changing your perspective.”

She now wants to focus on being a full-time mother, though an eventual campaigning role remains a possibility.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 45, who worked with a Thomson Reuters Foundation charity as a project manager, was arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016 while she was returning to Britain with her daughter, Gabriella, after visiting her parents. A court later convicted her of plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment.

She was first sent to Evin prison in Tehran, which has a reputation for being the worst prison in that country, then released in 2020 but kept under house arrest. Last year, she was sentenced to a new term in jail on the charge of propaganda against the state.

Ashoori, 67, was arrested in 2017 and sentenced in 2019.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori were released after Britain agreed to pay a decades-old debt of $520 million to Iran relating to a contract for undelivered tanks, Reuters said, adding that an Iranian-American environmentalist, Morad Tahbaz, who’s also a British citizen, had been released on furlough as part of the deal.

After her arrival, Zaghari-Ratcliffe shared how intense interrogations and inhumane conditions in prison affected her health.

The questioning by Iranian officials was so aggressive that she once fell off her chair, she said, according to The National, which also quoted her saying that on another day, she cried so much she ended up fainting.

Iranian officials  also told her she was lying about her marriage and that she “did not know” her husband “and that he was a spy and that he had lied about where he worked.”

“They kept telling me I had lost my job and that if interrogation took too long my husband would leave me,” she recalled.

Talking about her arrest, she said, “I couldn’t sleep a wink for the first week. My heart palpitated so hard that when I put my head on the blanket it felt as if it would explode,” according to The Telegraph.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s employer kept her job open and also promoted her in her absence, The Daily Mail reported.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, had called on Christian leaders in 2017 to intervene for her release, condemning London and Tehran for putting diplomacy before the life of the woman.

“I think what’s going to help most is if this case can be taken right out of political point scoring and I think religious leaders are well-placed to do that,” Williams told Premier in an interview at the time.

“I think there [are] some basic moral issues here which Christian leaders are in a good position to raise,” the former archbishop added, alluding to Britain’s debt.

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